On Thursday, December 10th, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor of Political Science at Wheaton College, posted on Facebook that she would be wearing a hijab during the advent season, in order to express what she called in the post “embodied solidarity”. In said post, she made comments in which she referenced and agreed with the Pope saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and also referred to Muslims as “people of the book”.
On Tuesday, December 15th, Dr. Hawkins was suspended from her position by Wheaton College administrative leaders.
Wheaton College’s reasoning for suspending Dr. Hawkins is, according to the statement released by the college, due to Dr. Hawkins’ “statements…made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam” and for a failure to “engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the College’s evangelical Statement of Faith”.
While at face-value, this might seem like somewhat legitimate reasoning, I found upon reading over Wheaton College’s Statement of Faith that the college’s reasoning for suspending Dr. Hawkins is almost completely unfounded from said standpoint.
The Wheaton College Statement of Faith does not touch on the relationship between Christianity and Islam. It is undeniable that an ongoing contentious debate exists in both Christian and Islamic sects over the relationship of the Christian God and the Islamic God, but the Statement of Faith takes no explicit side in this debate. Regardless of where one falls on the Christian/Islamic God debate, Dr. Hawkins’ comment did not go against the Statement of Faith, either in denotation or connotation.
If Dr. Hawkins’ comment did violate some unofficial theological tenet held by Wheaton College as an institution, then perhaps the college should update the Statement of Faith to make that tenet official. A statement has been released by the college detailing the supposed views it holds, but only in response to probing news media outlets, and well after the suspension of Dr. Hawkins. The Statement of Faith, which was held up as the grounds for Dr. Hawkins’ dismissal, remains unchanged. Reactionary moves like the suspension of Dr. Hawkins cannot be based on unofficial theological tenets.
It is for that reason that I make my claim on why I believe Dr. Hawkins was dismissed from her teaching post. This decision was not based on theological grounds. Rather, it was a calculated move to appease the donors of Wheaton College.
This process began with the release of an email on Monday (December 14th) from Dr. Ryken to the student body, in which he addressed the public statements which Wheaton College students and faculty members had made in the wake of Jerry Falwell’s comments at Liberty University. The email referenced that some faculty statements “could be interpreted as failing to reflect the distinctively Christian theological identity of Wheaton College”. We now know that this was in reference to Dr. Hawkins’ comment; she was suspended the very next day.
In sending out this email and suspending Dr. Hawkins, Wheaton College effectively “covered their bases” with donors. They expressed their support of solidarity with the Muslim community (separating them from Liberty University, which has garnered much negative press over Jerry Falwell’s comments), but also made it clear that there was a specific, “Christian” way to express said solidarity–one Dr. Hawkins was not following.
The priorities of the donors are expressed succinctly through the connotation of Dr. Hawkins’ suspension. Wheaton College’s donors believe that ultimately inconsequential Christian semantics trump solidarity. Wheaton College’s donors also believe that these same semantics trump having tenured female minorities employed on campus.
Wheaton College is not afraid of theological disagreements. Wheaton College is not afraid of PR nightmares, or the fact that Dr. Hawkins’ suspension is now a trending topic on Facebook.
The only thing that Wheaton College is afraid of is losing funding, and the institution will do anything to prevent that from happening. Each decision the college makes is based on finding a middle ground between maintaining donorship and tuition.
It is for this reason that I fear that Wheaton College will not issue an apology to Dr. Hawkins regarding her suspension, regardless of whether or not she is reinstated. It is a serious issue that Dr. Hawkins was used as a meatshield and scapegoat against donors, and this issue is exacerbated further due to the college painting it as solely a theological issue.
Dr. Hawkins deserves an immediate and sincere apology for the way Wheaton College has used her and her employment to further their own benefactory needs, all under the guise of upholding supposed evangelical tenets.
I encourage Wheaton College students, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters to speak out against the suspension of Dr. Hawkins, and to note it as yet another disturbing example of Wheaton’s precedence for donorship over solidarity. When Christians become more focused on the attainment of funds rather than supporting Christ-like expressions of solidarity and love, then they are not working for Christ and His Kingdom.